The Great Threat and Bernard Lewis’ Nightmare

Monday, March 7, 2011

Dr. Gholamali Khoshroo
Senior Editor of the Encyclopedia of Contemporary Islam

Active ImageBernard Lewis, the 94-year-old British-American historian who specializes on the history of the Middle East and is one of the most renowned experts on relations between Islam and the west, has taken part in a detailed interview with the daily Jerusalem Post on February 25, 2011, in Tel Aviv to analyze the current situation in the Middle East. In addition, he has offered important recommendations for both western and Islamic countries. His views are very important in that they have been taken on board by various American and European governments, especially the Bush Administration, over the past half a century. He came up with the theory of clash of civilizations before Huntington and helped spread Islamophobia through his influence in scientific centers as well as political and media circles. His recent interview is unprecedentedly up-front and indicative of a daunting reality.

Bernard Lewis believes that at the root of the protests sweeping across our region is the Arab peoples’ widespread sense of injustice. But Lewis regards a dash toward Western-style elections, far from representing a solution to the region’s difficulties, as constituting “a dangerous aggravation” of the problem, and fears that radical Islamic movements would be best placed to exploit so misguided a move.

“This idea that a general election, Western-style, is a solution to all these problems, seems to me a dangerous fallacy which can only lead to disaster. I think we should let them do it their way by consultative groups.”  “They are simply not ready for free and fair elections.”

Reflecting on the present crisis in the Middle East, he has introduced Iran as the greatest and the most serious threat and calls on the Arab and Islamic countries to face Iran in order to find peace and stability in the neighborhood of Israel. His frankness is quite laudable, but he misses a point: he forgets to mention that this has been the United States’ dominant policy in the Middle East since the victory of the Islamic Revolution in Iran.

In response to this “When you look around the region, which are the potential enemies which may be regarded as the greater threat?” He said:

“At the moment, principally the Iranian revolution.  On the one hand they’re afraid of what you might call Iranian imperialism, and on the other hand of the Iranian Shi’ite revolution.”

For a better understanding between the Arabs and Israel, “the only time when they began to look favourably on outside alliances is when they see themselves as confronting a still greater danger. Sadat didn’t make peace because he was suddenly convinced of the merits of the Zionist case. Sadat made peace because Egypt was becoming a Soviet colony.”  “The same thing has happened again on a number of occasions. Now they see Israel as a barrier against the Iranian threat.”

This is a synopsis of Mr. Bernard Lewis’ views as expressed in the aforesaid interview. When analyzing his views, the following points should be taken into account.

What he proposes as a solution has been the root cause of all problems faced by the Middle Eastern countries in the past decades. During the past three decades, strategic policies adopted by the United States and its allies were based on supporting Arab dictators, scaring them of Iran’s influence, and repressing regional nations in order to secure Israel’s interests. Now, the Middle East has overcome Islamophobia and Iranophobia and the new discourse introduced by the Middle Eastern people has already overthrown a number of dictators. The people are now redefining their countries’ national interests without regard for efforts made by the United States and Israel to pitch them against other countries. Bernard Lewis, who has wasted a whole lifetime on promoting Islamophobia and Iranophobia, has perceived that those policies have already backfired and is now trying to present an upside-down picture of the truth as if he has found a silver bullet to all problems. He is, however, ignoring the reality that past remedies have lost their effect in the course of time and have given birth to a new elixir of life. At present, it is very costly in the Middle East to support the policies of the United States in favoring Israel and all states are trying to avert the fate of overthrown despots by distancing themselves from those policies.

During his last two weeks in power, Mubarak was intentionally aggrandizing threats posed by the Islamist forces, but his people only mocked him. If they had gotten used to drawing a link between any reform or freedom-seeking movement and Iran to provide grounds for suppressing such efforts, now, Iran is openly happy about the ongoing uprisings in the Arab world without anybody being punished for it. At the same time, political, security and strategic centers in the United States and Israel have described these developments as rapid, unpredictable and worrisome.

What Bernard Lewis has said in this and other interviews and a review of policies adopted by the United States and its allies in the past three decades will make it clear beyond any doubt that bedeviling Iran has been the main approach of the west. This approach has been based on illogical fear and baseless incrimination. Their media have been promoting this upside-down picture as a reality and their politicians have been repeating it, so that, nobody could talk about Iran unless within framework of these bedeviling clichés. Political, security, strategic, media, and even research circles in the west have been confined to that framework when reflecting on Iran and depicting a roadmap throughout the past three decades.

Bernard Lewis, who has spent his life on studying history and civilization of Islam, has been a more loyal advocate of the clash of civilizations. He draws the path which connects the Islamic civilization to the west not on the basis of interaction, common understanding and elimination of misunderstandings, prejudgments, misconceptions, injustices, and violent approaches, but on the basis of bedeviling Iran in order to scare Muslims and make them look to the west and Israel as safe havens. It is only in this condition that security and stability of these countries will be guaranteed and they will enjoy full support of the United States and its allies. To prevent clash of the Islamic and western civilizations, he encourages both the Islamic and western countries to have an all-out confrontation with Iran while providing unbridled support for Israel.

In other words, this macro strategy adopted by Washington and its allies revolves around the following main pivots: defaming Iran, counteracting Iran’s efforts in international bodies, sowing discord between Tehran and the world, scaring the US allies, instigating ethnic groups, launching a full-fledged psychological and propaganda war, paralyzing the Iranian economy by imposing sanctions, knocking the Iranian political system off balance through military and security threats, and keeping the Iranian people in constant fear of surprise attacks. To achieve these goals, they need to first provide necessary conditions: to support big and small dictators in the region; to deprive regional people of their basic rights; to spend billions of dollars over long years; to establish hundreds of media, lobby, and policymaking centers; to organize thousands of conferences, workshops, and meetings; and finally to allocate special budgets to intelligence operations inside Iran to introduce Iran as a boogeyman and make regional countries take it as a fact. In this way, they will have to find refuge with Israel to be safe from Iran and the United States will rest at peace. This will also allow Israel to easily defy resolutions passed by the UN General Assembly, the Human Rights Council and even the Security Council; to turn Gaza into the biggest prison in the whole human history; to be unrivaled in the occupation of Quds; to continue with the construction of Jewish settlements on the occupied lands; and to be able to launch a bloodbath in Lebanon one day, and in Gaza the next.

Bernard Lewis’ recommendations, which aim to depict Iran as the biggest threat in the Middle East and mold this into the main security and strategic doctrine of the United States and its allies, have inflicted heavy losses both on the west and the Islamic world. The United States, whose foreign policy is based on supporting democracy and human rights, fighting terrorism, and preventing proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, has failed to achieve those goals as a result of the adoption of such erroneous policy.

Iran has come under intense fire from international media and organizations over the past three decades as a result of pressures exerted by the United States and its allies using the human rights leverage while regional dictators have enjoyed their unbridled support. Such support, which has been in parallel with the US backing for Israel and repression of protestors, has created a very negative image of the US policies in the minds of regional people. At present, after having spent billions of dollars, Washington has lost hope in its plans and is faced with countless questions posed by people who have suffered from injustice and repression. That injustice could not have lasted so long in the absence of US support and without depicting Iran as the greatest threat to the American taxpayers. Now that people in Egypt and Tunisia are pursuing their right to self-determination, Mr. Lewis clearly announces “But I think it’s a great mistake to try and think of the Middle East in those terms and that can only lead to disastrous results. They are simply not ready for free and fair elections.” “In genuinely fair and free elections, [the Muslim parties] are very likely to win and I think that would be a disaster.”

Active ImageAs for fighting terrorism, the United States has been regularly introducing Iran as a focal point of international terrorism with annual reports on the subject. Suddenly, on September 11, 2001, the world’s biggest terrorist operations struck the heart of US economic power and despite many years of propaganda, those who were involved in it had nothing to do with Iran. That disaster was followed by the occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq by the US forces and two costly wars which have thus far claimed thousands of innocent lives. Now, presence of the United States and its allies in Iraq and Afghanistan has turned into a suitable breeding ground for terrorism and terrorist operations. Following the 9/11, Mubarak urged his American counterpart that the situation in the Middle East would remain unsettled as long as the issue of Palestine has not been resolved. Bush, however, only thought about one thing: to establish the Greater Middle East with Israel at its heart in order to align all countries with Tel Aviv in the face of the imaginary threat of Iran.

On grounds of preventing proliferation of the nuclear weapons and even construction of Bushehr nuclear power plant which had been designed before the revolution to generate power, the United States has caused many problems for Iran as a result of which a five-year project has not been finished after 35 years. In the meantime, Iran’s eastern neighbors have been engaged in intense nuclear competition as a result of which they have both built and tested nuclear bombs. Iran has tried for many years to promote the idea of a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East, but the United States never supported that effort while Israel continued to build nuclear weapons throughout those years. Although a member of the Non-Proliferation Treaty whose nuclear program is under intense control of International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran has been also under international sanctions imposed by the United States and its allies. This double and hypocritical treatment is rooted in the strategic policy which depicts Iran as a great threat to rally support for Israel. On the other hand, it is clear sign of the failure of the US nuclear doctrine in the Middle East.

By adopting the “great threat” policy and following the old historian, Bernard Lewis, the United States and its allies have failed to achieve most of their foreign policy goals in the Middle East. Iran’s regional position shows that the United States has not only failed to contain Iran, but has also lost the Middle East despite all material and spiritual investments it has made in it. The United States has both failed to find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, and lost its credibility. Washington has been not only unable to beef up Israel’s security and stability, but has been also suffering as a result. Victorious cries of triumph in Afghanistan and Iraq have been replaced with disillusionment and disappointment. This is why the US decision-makers should review their Middle Eastern policies and distance from their erroneous past approach. Founding the foreign policy of the world’s biggest power on nightmares and daydreaming will have disastrous consequences not only for the American people, but for the whole world. The author maintains that the best way out of the existing crisis is not the “great threat” theory; the best way is to bury and completely forget about it.

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